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Ask HN: Why has no one created an “Amazon” driven by local businesses?
21 points by praulv 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments
I'm sure I'm not the first one to have this glaringly obvious idea, so I put it up for discussion. I was largely motivated by horror stories of Amazon workers having to walk 15 minutes to the break room for their - you guessed it - 15 minute break, along with a very strong desire to support my local neighbourhood/city shops.

The concept is an "Amazon" style shopping experience which supports local businesses. Let's ignore shipping logistics and synchronising stock inventory for now. Why is there no single global site for consumers to search local neighbourhood inventory for a product as a starting point. Yes, large department and retail stores often have nearest branch stock checking and online checkout, but I still feel the experience is frictious and fragmented. I understand many small businesses already operate on Amazon and eBay through fulfillment programmes. It seems like a fairly concrete and scalable problem to solve in principle, but probably quite difficult to operate sustainably.

The biggest problems with this kind of Marketplace is(without the ignored points):

- convincing local Shop-Owners at first (this should be a no brainer but it isn't - many won't see still today any value for this )

- to invest in modern Systems (even if you subsidize the cost of it, there is a chance that many owners dont do/want it)

- bring local shops/stock online (the easy part, because it can be done without further involment of the owner)

- train the local shop owners (it is still a big part in this kind of projects and the costs are high, because many would prefere a face to face training. - lack of PC / Web Skills)

- keep the owners on the marketplace (some local shops will see a increase in transactions but most of the shops will not(they get just more work with no gain), so you have to subsidize some kind of cost(no fees for example) and pamper the shops to stay)

- getting steadiliy new shops into the system (because many shops will leave at the moment you want money from them or - see point above.)

- keeping officials of city/county, VC's etc. involved (with money, press or whatever - subsidizing all of this needs money and manpower)

I kind of think this fundamentally doesn't work. But I do wonder what can be done to leverage web based stuff to help support a healthy local economy. Help local artists, writers and what not to make money online. Maybe help give exposure to small towns to promote tourism. That sort of thing.

I like the basic idea of fostering local business in some way. I just don't really see an Amazon style fulfillment deal working. I feel like Etsy is the Amazon of local retailers.

But how do we turn this into a means to give pushback against the big getting bigger and eating the world? How do we use the web to help solve some of the problems it is helping to create?

Local businesses (at least in rural areas) aren't very tech savvy or even computerized, and many couldn't afford the time/effort/connectivity to do such a thing, though you might get some of the shining stars in the area (around here theres, some candy makers, a rock shop, several wineries, local honey, olive oil, and a few professional entertainers, artists and craftspeople).

My local business concept in development is http://www.doPlaces.com - a better local guide; geared for tourists as well as locals, has more detail and uses a lot of categorization and cross-linking, also some mapping to make finding stuff around here easier. Lists businesses groups, services, makers, entertainers, events, attractions, etc.

Similar has been done by numerous big guys but most of their listings are out of date, inaccurate, or just woefully incomplete.

I figure there is a niche for mom-n-pop community guides, that provide better information that are locally maintained.

Pointy [1] allows you to search local shops, though it currently only covers Ireland and you have to go to the shop to purchase the item. At it's heart is a hardware device that integrates with the store's bar code scanner so inventory can be synced with an online database.

[1] https://www.pointy.com

I love this, it's brilliant and solves most of the inventory concerns. If anyone knows of the business development team I'd be interested in the challenges they faced trying to scale this out.

One additional issue is that while you might walk into the local shop, look around, get served by the local salesperson, have them provide recommendations or compariaons on different products, etc and "have a good experience", once you take the purchasing journey online much of this non-transactional experience disappears, so price becomes much more of a deciding factor. Most people don't 'shop around' too much for a few dollars less in meatspace, but when its all online (especially in an Amazon-style marketplace where products are compared between multiple sellers), customers are much more likely to pick whichever seller is cheaper, which isn't exactly appealing to business owners!

There are already platforms that have the info and could probably roll this out with minimal effort. Etsy, squarespace, Shopify, etc all know what you are selling and where you are located. They just need to enable a search by local.

Upon further thought, Amazon could even offer this service. Perhaps even as a way to earn goodwill.

This sounds similar to Milo. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/milo

They were acquired by eBay, but it seems the service no longer exists. http://www.ebay.com/local/

I've fantasized about this very thing, albeit with far more emphasis on the logistics angle. Building out a massive Amazon-scale logistics network and then offering that advantage exclusively to individuals. No chains, franchising or large-scale ownership permitted. Subsidies would be provided to those without capital wishing to start their own shop.

It'd be more or less a turnkey solution. The small business owners would be bringing their own decor, atmosphere, style and charm to the table; something other than a corporate chain or big box feel.

Of course, the appeal of big box retail is that everything is in one place. Therefore it might make sense to make this a real-estate play as well: group shops with complimentary offerings together, or even facilitate a market/bazaar style setup.

Why go to Walmart when you can go to a high-tech bazaar backed by modern logistics and bleeding edge point of sale tech, that offers the same goods at the same price.

Creating Amazon-scale logistics is no small investment though, so it's not really feasible idea unless you've billions to burn bootstrapping it.

That said, the idea of liberating capable people who are currently stuck in hellish retail jobs is very cool. Granted they'd still be in retail, but as shop owners with relatively high amounts of freedom and a living wage. It'd be a huge win for individuality and quality of life. The same function to society would be fulfilled, but with massive benefits to both the worker and consumer.

I hope someone does this one day, because bigbox retail and massive corporate chain restaurants need to fucking die. Their monoculture and asthetics suck the magic right out of society. There's no better illustration of this than comparing variety in big city commerce to a typical suburb. Most suburbs are veritable wastelands by comparison, and that's not even considering the extreme cases where the only store in town for most essential items is the local Walmart.

Many people I am sure have realized the need for such a thing for many years. You can include me in the list of such people.

I am co-founder of a startup producing an ECM product. The product is, amongst other things, designed to be able to address the need you are pointing out. The company is named 'Carbon State' and the website can be seen here: https://carbonstate.com

What is needed to be able to have an "Amazon style shopping experience" is a site that can easily allow anyone to list any known object that could be sold in a cleanly organized way. This requires many different things:

1. A system that can scale to enterprise levels ( meaning many servers working together but appearing to be a single website to the user )

2. A hierarchical tree of categories in which items are located, that can easily be updated by many different groups simultaneously and audited for accuracy.

3. The ability to allow multiple structured definitions of products at any point on the tree. That is, the ability to define what constitutes 'a thing that can be sold' at that point in the tree. Different types of things with different sets of attributes could be at each point in the tree.

4. The ability to let product owners define visual layout for their products in an appealing fashion that is compatible with all users of the system. ( and the ability to prevent them from messing up the large system by doing this )

5. The ability to let individual shop owners control their payment process entirely, while still allowing a 'global payment gateway' to exist. This essentially means that different stores will have their own websites as well, but they will feed in a clean structured way into the global system.

6. A system that does not charge any percentage of the value of the products on sale, and charges a very minimal fee for businesses to join the global gateway.

The product my company is working on will, when complete, address all of these needs.

I had an idea similar to this a while back.

Local shops would be provided with point of sale devices and stock control software. Their stock data would be fed into their own store websites/profiles and a wider marketplace.

Users could either purchase from an individual store or the marketplace. If they did the latter the system would find products from stores closest to their location. Users could arrange in-store pickup or same day delivery using spare capacity from nearby takeaway drivers.

Money made from sales would be nominal, but the real value would be providing data to suppliers.

Your first problem is not thinking from the perspective of the customer. Most customers don't care about the conditions of the workers nor do they care about supporting local businesses.

Second problem is you can't count on other people to build your platform. Until you get past a certain critical mass of stores/products, the site won't be very useful and so it's going to be tough to convince businesses or customers to use it.

Germany has a bunch of initiatives going in this direction.

Few companies from that space: https://atalanda.com/ https://www.lokaso.de https://www.locafox.de/

I believe this was the same battle fought by local bookstores when Amazon was just an online bookseller.

I suppose someone will try again. It's largely a network effect and economy of scale, perhaps?

But then again, people build new browsers, car and/or space technology companies, or similarly "insurmountable" projects.

There have been a few local inventory search startups, but there are a few gotchas:

An in-stock item may be bought by another party before order or pickup.

Inventory may show more inventory than actual. Shoplifting is one reason for this.

In the end I think prioritizing in-store shopping conflicts with pick-and-ship operations.

Pay people to walk into stores with their phones, filming the aisles. Process that video with image recognition software to tag products and read prices. Boom you’ve got a database.

> Let's ignore ... synchronising stock inventory for now.

That's ignoring the most important part?

We're ignoring this for now because once we can prove a realtime synchronised searchable inventory MVP, you can solve the shipping problem separately. It's also a separate problem on the logistics front as you don't have a central warehouse. Thinking about it, it's an extreme subset of the same problem i.e. effectively infinite distributed warehouses.

Shipping costs too. Amazon gets rates you won't get until you match their scale.

Because small local shops are not as efficient as big not-local shops. Nothing to do with the skill or determination of shop owners, just plain, uncomfortable, economics.

There are start ups out there which are doing this already. I don't know their name but they are existing (I heard from one in Germany I think).

I hate people giving off ideas to big companies in public forums.

Small companies are often run by people who are at best inexperienced and more often are incompetent.

They can’t scale their business, why do you think you can do it for them?

Recipe for disaster.

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